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Anna, his wife, let him direct the strategy for managing her accounts—whether to apply for new credit, when to ask for higher limits, how much of those limits to draw on. Her husband, a self-described credit card-obsessive, was also working on his own record. Six months ago, when some big credit blemishes finally dropped off his report, his score reached as high as 842. Within a year, Kelman thinks he can reach 850, too.


The two biggest factors in your score are payment history and credit utilization (how much of your available credit you're using). That’s why they come first in this list of ways to boost your credit: Pay all your bills, not just credit cards, on time. You don't want late payments or worse, a debt collection or legal judgment against you, on your credit reports. Keep the balance on each credit card at 30% of your available credit or lower. Keep accounts open and active if possible; that will help your length of payment history and credit utilization. Avoid opening too many new accounts at once; new accounts lower your average account age. Check your credit report and dispute any errors you find. It pays to monitor your score over time. Always check the same score — otherwise, it's like trying to monitor your weight on different scales — and use the methods outlined above to build whichever score you track. And like weight, your score may fluctuate. As long as you keep it in a healthy range, those variations won't have a major impact on your financial well-being.

The interpretation of a credit score will vary by lender, industry, and the economy as a whole. While 640 has been a divider between "prime" and "subprime", all considerations about score revolve around the strength of the economy in general and investors' appetites for risk in providing the funding for borrowers in particular when the score is evaluated. In 2010, the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) tightened its guidelines regarding credit scores to a small degree, but lenders who have to service and sell the securities packaged for sale into the secondary market largely raised their minimum score to 640 in the absence of strong compensating factors in the borrower's loan profile. In another housing example, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac began charging extra for loans over 75% of the value that have scores below 740. Furthermore, private mortgage insurance companies will not even provide mortgage insurance for borrowers with scores below 660. Therefore, "prime" is a product of the lender's appetite for the risk profile of the borrower at the time that the borrower is asking for the loan.


In the life of a grown-up, there are few feelings as anxiety-inducing as the moment when you get your credit report back, only to find that it’s not nearly as high as you anticipated. But fear not: there are a variety of perfectly good reasons why your credit score has taken a hit, and in this case, knowledge is power. The more you know about how your credit score operates and what can affect in, the easier it will be to get it back up to scratch.
Your credit reports are broken into several different parts, and you’ll want to review each one carefully for errors and omissions regarding all of your key identifying information. This information includes your name, current and former addresses, your employer (if it’s available), credit card and loan payments, inquiries, collection records and public records such as bankruptcy filings and tax liens.
Only one website is authorized to fill orders for the free annual credit report you are entitled to under law — annualcreditreport.com. Other websites that claim to offer “free credit reports,” “free credit scores,” or “free credit monitoring” are not part of the legally mandated free annual credit report program. In some cases, the “free” product comes with strings attached. For example, some sites sign you up for a supposedly “free” service that converts to one you have to pay for after a trial period. If you don’t cancel during the trial period, you may be unwittingly agreeing to let the company start charging fees to your credit card.
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